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Bee Ranges and Almond Orchard Locations:  Contemporary Visualization

Sandra L. Arlinghaus
Adjunct Professor of Mathematical Geography and Population-Environment Dynamics
School of Natural Resources and Environment
The University of Michigan


Diana Sammataro
Research Entomologist
USDA-ARS Carl Hayden Bee Research Center
2000 East Allen Road, Tucson, AZ 85719

Associated Google Earth file for interactive viewing:  download.


For more than a decade, Diana Sammataro has been enthusiastically sending information to be mapped concerning the global plight of the honeybee.  Mapping the diffusion of the bee's arch enemies, the Varroa Mite and Small Hive Beetles (Sammataro and Avitable; Hood), offers insight into where interventions might be successful.  (See the Appendix to learn more about Small Hive Beetles.)  Most recently, Arlinghaus mapped, in Google Earth, the set of locations at which the mite had been sighted since its emergence.   Much of the information is now summarized, using a "timeline" in Google Earth (Spatial Synthesis, Volume II, Book 4).

As technological capability has expanded, GPS data makes it straightforward to map more detailed data.  California almond orchards are one locale that boasts substantial honey bee populations.  In the spring, these orchards spring to life with their beautiful pink blossoms covering the landscape.   Figure 1 suggests this splendor and shows bee residents.

Figure 1.  California almond orchard near Manteca, CA.  Photos of Diana Sammataro.


In 2009, researchers at the Hayden Bee Research Center (Sammataro et al.) studied  the diversity of pollen coming into bee colonies from almond orchards in California.  Bee colonies are often transported into California from other states just to pollinate almond trees, which need bees in order to produce the nuts (   Almonds (Prunus dulcis) are not true nuts, but are called drupes; the seed is covered with an inedible outer shell.  Almonds are a member of the Rose family and their closest relatives are plums and peaches, which have a fleshy (and edible) covering around the center pit, which when cracked open, reveals an almond-like nut.

The bee scientists collected pollen from bee colonies that were placed in 3 different sites to determine the different kinds of pollen that bees were foraging. They could tell if the pollen sources were different by the color of the pollen bee carried back to the colony (Figure 1).  Photographic evidence of the orchards showed that there were very few other flowering plants even within the two-mile radius of bee flight. In some locations, there were vast fields of canola, which provided bees with an alternative forage (Figure 1), but in other locations, the orchards were so well groomed and isolated that there was little else for the bees to work except the almonds (Figure 1).  Bees collect both nectar (which they turn into honey, their carbohydrate food) and pollen (which they convert, via microbes, into protein rich bee bread).  Because bees are in the almonds so early in the spring (February-March), they are using up this food to feed their brood; thus little honey is ever collected from these colonies.

Beekeepers are encouraged to survey the flight area their bees will be visiting in order to determine whether or not bees may come in contact with pesticide-treated crops or other inappropriate forage.  Mapping using Google Earth is an excellent way to assess the bees' flight range and potential forage areas.


The images in Figures 2, 3, and 4 display in a "photo essay" style of format, the sorts of visualization that might enhance and guide scientific advance.  It is a straightforward matter to map the GPS points as balloons ("Placemarks") in Google Earth at the precise points given by the GPS coordinates.  Circles, of two-mile radius, surrounding each point indicate bee range and the overlap pattern between orchards (Figure 2). 

Figure 2.  Locating the GPS points for orchards in Google Earth.  Two-mile ranges for bees appear as yellow circles.

Naturally, one might wish to take a closer look and in the interactive world of Google Earth that is easy to do.  Download the attached file and view it yourself in Google Earth.  Consider the animated sequences of static images derived from that file shown in Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 3 shows that one can adjust the opacity of the yellow circles so that it is easy to see, up close, the patterns in the orchards underlying these circles. 
In the closer views, the orchards with a very linear pattern are peach orchards.  The almond trees are larger than the peach trees.

Figure 3.  Zoom in; then adjust circle opacity.  Notice the movement of the slider at the bottom of the "Places" panel on the left.  This slider adjusts opacity.  The fast-moving portion of the animation shows an alternate way to manipulate the opacity using animation "tweening" (the slider remains fixed although the opacity of the yellow changes).  While this strategy might seem attractive, it does not permit a true increase in capability to observe the underlying aerial in Google Earth because the animation does not occur in Google Earth itself but rather in animation software.  Thus, the procedure of moving the slider, in Google Earth itself, is the best way to truly enhance the view of the aerial content within the yellow 2-mile range.

In Figure 4 the "Street View" and "Roads" switches are clicked on.  Thus, we see a view of the orchards that is far more detailed than what is shown in the aerials that cover the globe.  The camera icons that appear when the "Street Views" switch is filled offer, with a single click, a balloon that suggests detail.  When one expands to the full view, or double-clicks on a camera, he/she enters a "sphere" on the inside of which a detailed panoramic photo has been plastered.  While inside the sphere, spin around to see what is visible from all compass cardinal points at that location.  Or, travel along a sequence of adjacent cameras to move along the road.  Leave the sphere ("Exit Photo") to see the array of available photos in relation to the aerial.  Zoom in or out; the more one zooms out, the fewer camera icons appear (and conversely when one zooms in).   Sammataro notes that it might be helpful to associate soil type with such maps and images (also see Hood).   Such a proposal offers a mapping challenge for the future!

Figure 4.  In a close-up view, turn on the "Street View" and "Roads" switches to get a better view of the landscape.

The images in this overview offer only a small sample of the visualization available using the full file in Google Earth.  We hope that these simple animations will entice the reader to take the trouble to download Google Earth and open the linked file at the top and drive around selected California almond orchards--almost as if the reader were a bee flying from one locale to another!

Citations and References

APPENDIX:  SMALL HIVE BEETLE Excerpted from The Beekeepers Handbook, Sammataro and Avitabile.

The small hive beetle (SHB) Aethina tumida (Coleoptera: Nitidulidae), our newest bee pest, was first identified in a Florida apiary in the spring of 1998.  Before its discovery in the U.S., the beetle was known to exist only in South Africa. How it found its way to North America is still not understood. It is not considered to be much of a pest in its native home, but it has been a major problem in the U.S., especially in the southeastern states. These beetles are in the Nitidulidae family, which includes picnic beetles, known for their attraction to fermenting fruit. The SHB has been found in traps containing cantaloupe, pineapple and bananas, and may live in fruit when bee colonies are not available. 

The beetle is now found in all of the states and parts of Canada, but it is especially a problem in the southeastern states, where the winter weather is moderate. In most northern areas, the SHB populations do not seem to build up to high numbers, as they do in southern states. As of 2002, the beetle was found in Australia.


The adult beetle is about 1/3 the size of a bee (5.5 to 5.9mm long, 3.1 to 3.3mm wide), reddish brown or black in color and covered with very fine hair.  The larvae are cream colored and similar in appearance to young wax moth larvae. You can differentiate the beetle larvae from wax moth larvae by examining their legs. Beetle larvae have three sets of legs just behind the head. Wax moth larvae, like all moth and butterfly larvae, have three sets of legs behind the head, and in addition, have a series of paired prolegs which run the length of the body. Prolegs are absent in beetle larvae.


Adult females are strong flyers and invade colonies to lay their egg masses in the cracks and small crevices that bees are not able to reach.  Reports of eggs laid under wax cappings of brood and in empty cells have also been made.  A single female beetle is capable of laying up to 1000 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs hatch in one to six days, producing a great number of small larvae which consume pollen, honey, bee brood and wax. They complete their larval stage in 10 to 16 days and then drop to the bottom board where they crawl outside in order to pupate in the soil up to 100 ft (30 m) from the hive entrance preferring light, sandy soils.  Adult beetles emerge from the soil in approximately 3-4 weeks and fly to the same colony (or find new ones).  They mate inside hive and are sexually mature approximately one week after emerging from the soil.  They are good flyers and easily disperse to new colonies where they deposit eggs to begin a new generation. 

Beetles live 30 to 60 days depending of food resources, temperatures and moisture; they do best in hot, humid climates.  During the winter months, adult beetles will be found in the bee cluster next to food and warmth, and will die if they leave the cluster. The beetles completely shut down reproduction during winter. 


In the southeastern states of the U.S., SHB thrive and are of significant economic importance.  The beetles appear to be able to readily take over even strong colonies with little resistance by the bees.  A few female beetles can produce masses of larvae which can soon overwhelm a bee colony.  In addition to consuming the resources of the colony, (according to a study by Dr. A. E. Lundie, Union of South Africa, Science Bulletin 220, 1940, 30 pp.), the adult beetles defecate in the honey causing it to ferment and run out of the combs.  Larvae also damage new comb and tunnel through comb, killing brood and eating stores of honey and pollen.  In addition, beetles can be in harvested honey supers that are taken off the hives.  When these supers are stored in the honey house, the beetles will contaminate the honey by their feeding, rendering the honey not only un-saleable, but unpalatable to bees, to the extent that the bees will not even eat it.  "Rotten oranges" is how some observers have described the smell of this fermenting mass.

Thus, full honey supers stored in the honey house or on hives above bee escapes, and weak colonies with honey but few bees, are the most vulnerable to attack by SHB (these include nucleus and small queen mating colonies). When SHB infestations are heavy, beetle larvae by the thousands have been seen crawling out of the colony entrance; even in strong colonies, queens will stop laying eggs and the bees may abscond. 


All hive inspections should be done with an eye open for this pest. When opening a hive containing beetles, they can be seen running across the combs to find hiding places.  Adults may also be detected under top covers or on bottom boards.  If an infestation is heavy, both adults and masses of larvae may be seen on the combs and bottom board.  These larvae do not produce silken tunnels, webbing or cocoons in the hive (as wax moth larvae do), but wax moth could also be present.  It is important to be able to identify the beetle larvae. 

If beetles are suspected in a honey super, firmly shake it over an up-turned outer cover; beetles can be dislodged and seen running to find a hiding place. Fermented honey exuding from full supers in storage, waiting to be extracted, or on active colonies, is a sign that hive beetles may be present; the 'decaying orange' odor will be detectable.

Another place to check is pollen patties and even syrup feeders; beetles can be raised on artificial pollen patties. Corrugated cardboard with the paper removed from one side and placed on the bottom board at the rear of the hive, has been successfully used in detecting adult beetles. Plastic corrugated 'cardboard' is preferred because the bees will chew up regular cardboard.


Strong colonies are the best defense against serious infestations.  However, if too many beetles enter, they can overwhelm even a strong colony by the masses of eggs they lay in a short time. Workers can be seen trying to sting or pull at the beetles, but the beetle's hard exoskeleton and rounded body make this impossible.  Beetles that are harassed will try to hide from the bees and have been found entrapped in corrals made of propolis.  This entrapment behavior may be encouraged by selective breeding of queens. 

Reducing the hive entrance let the guard bees do their job better, but will not work in apiaries that are heavily infested.  In the honey house, fans and a dehumidifier help keep beetles under control, but freezing the supers for 24 hours at 23 F (-12C) is reported to kill all life stages of the beetle.

If SHB is detected, and you are in an area where they may thrive (warm winters), the following safety measures are recommended:

  1. Keep your honey house clean; do not store full supers for long or leave honey-filled wax cappings exposed. 
  2. When supering or removing honey supers, be aware that SHB can invade and thus be spread through your apiaries.
  3. Moving infested colonies to another apiary site may reduce the build-up of pupae in a particular area.  Some locations may not be as suitable for the beetles as others.  Fire ants prey on pupating beetles.
  4. If beetles have contaminated honey and it has started to ferment, you can stimulate bees to clean it up by power washing out as much of the honey as possible.
  5. Experiment with trapping beetles or other cultural controls.  Check websites and journals for SHB traps.
  6. Some colonies may be able to keep SHB populations lower, so breed from those queens.
To reduce the threat of this pest in your apiary, take the following precautions:
  • Maintain only strong, healthy colonies and don’t mix infested equipment on uninfested colonies
  • Keep apiaries clean of ALL unused equipment; do not store empty supers on colonies.
  • Store honey in a cool, dry place.
  • Extract honey as soon as it is removed from colonies.
  • Destroy beetles in stored honey supers as soon as they are detected.
  • Wash honey drums to reduce their attraction.


Solstice:  An Electronic Journal of Geography and Mathematics
Volume XX, Number 1
Institute of Mathematical Geography (IMaGe).
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